Tuesday, January 31, 2012

HHS Health Reform Strategy: Two Scenarios

There has been a huge hue and cry in the Catholic blogosphere recently in reference to the White House’s recent statement that there will be no broadening of the conscience clause in the Health Care reform bill. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and many other religious organizations in America have been lobbying for this broadening since the bill was passed, and this month, three days before the National March for life in Washington, the White House stated that “This group (Faith based institutions) will ultimately have to offer female employees cost-free contraception, just like others across the country.”

This was not at all what those faith based institutions were hoping for. In a somewhat insulting nod to these organizations, the White House is allowing them an additional year to comply. This is not an acknowledgement of the conscience issue, but to allow more time for administrative changes that will need to be made. “We know that a lot of these organizations may be large organizations, there are approval processes that require the approval of boards,” an administration official told reporters on a call this afternoon. “The transitional period responds to those concerns.”

Unfortunately, these were never actually concerns. This is not a question of “an approval process” as if the implication were that “boards” just need enough time to argue about it before finally bowing to the mandate of Washington.

The uproar has been considerable, though not as widespread as the response to the SOPA bill. Catholic bloggers and bishops, not-for-profit organizations and media personalities have been firing back. I cannot say anything that they have not already said.

I am interested, though, in the Administration’s point of view. What is the end game here? It was a bold strategy, not only the decision to ignore the principles of the largest religious body on the planet, but to drop the ultimatum three days before the largest gathering of Catholics in one place in America. Coincidence? I’ll just say, competent strategists don’t allow coincidences like that. If the timing was not taken into account it was sheer incompetence. If it was, then what on earth was the strategy?

You see, only an idiot goes into battle without knowing his enemy. While there are varying levels of competence in Washington, I’m not ready to believe that the architects of this bill are idiots. They went into battle, and they had to know how the Catholics were going to react. This isn’t an administrative policy we are talking about here, this is a matter of moral principle. The Catholic Church’s opposition to contraception is a matter of history, and She has been before now the single voice in the world condemning the contraceptive culture. We made it through the 60’s without changing that for crying out loud. There is no excuse for ignorance about the Church’s position on this topic. Therefore, there is no possibility of compromise. We literally cannot give in to this law. It would be like forcing Jewish businesses to sell Kosher Bacon.

So I have no choice but to believe that at the very least the Administration knew that there was going to be an uproar. Perhaps they underestimated how rapid and loud it would be, but they took it into account in the decision making process. What part did it play?

I can think of two possible strategies that account for this blatant aggression. The first, and I think the most likely, is ideological. Perhaps the President and his advisors really believe that contraception and abortion are so obviously mainstream healthcare, that anyone who does not provide them shouldn’t be in healthcare anyway. An analogy would be someone who did not believe in prescribing antibiotics and refused to do so on moral grounds. Such a person has a right to believe that, but no hospital in America would hire them. They would not be allowed to practice as a physician, and rightly so. I think it is possible that Obama and his cronies are so in love with the idea of contraception that they have deluded themselves into thinking that contraceptives are on the same level as antibiotics and other routine, life-saving interventions. The rhetoric of “reproductive rights” might well have tricked its authors.

If this is the case then the move to engage in open warfare, as it were, was seen as a calculated risk. They think they are right to force people to take care of their employee’s health and welfare (their view), and they are counting on popular support and even more popular apathy to wear down religious resistance over time. In this scenario they expect to hunker down, weather the storm and keep up an endless stream of propaganda. It will blow over eventually and they will get their way.

The second scenario is more sinister, and I think less likely. In this scenario the motives are not ideological but pragmatic. They don’t give a damn about reproductive rights or contraception or any of that. What they do want is power. The Catholic Church, by Her nature, is always a possible threat to the power of the State, because She claims divine authority to resist laws it deems unjust. In this view the goal is to hamper the freedoms of this institution, consolidating power for the State. What you need for that is to do two things, simultaneously: First, you need to isolate and weaken the institution’s base of support among the population. Second, you need to create the opportunity to take action against that institution in such a way that it will be perceived as legitimate. To accomplish these you need an issue which will be at the same time odious to the institution in question and widely popular among the rest of the population.

So in this scenario this particular issue is not the issue. Instead it is simply a weapon. The goal is to draw intense, outspoken, and hopefully hot-headed or even inflammatory response from the Church, which can then be construed as backward, selfish and intolerant. The Church is forcing her beliefs on employees who do not even share the same beliefs! The hope then is that when the inevitable confrontation occurs, whether the Catholic institutions try to continue operating in defiance of the law, or close their doors, any government action can be presented as preventing the Church from imposing Her ideas on other people. No one will come to our aid in any effective way.

I don’t think this is the scenario, because it means that the Administration thinks the Church is weak enough that they can get away with it. You don’t deliberately provoke an all-out power struggle until you are certain you have the tactical advantage. I don’t think we are at that stage yet. In fact, if anything can bring out a little fight in us, this is it. But in the short term, motives matter very little. In either scenario the crux of the matter remains the same. The side that sways the people will win, and if Obama has proved adept at anything, it is influencing the people. People will point to his crashing polls, but the mystery is not that they have crashed so far, but that they have not bottomed out. The man can spin a yarn, and people listen. This is the most dangerous quality he possesses and we must not underestimate it.

In any revolution or counter-revolution, the propaganda war is the real war. The human terrain is the only terrain that matters.

Monday, January 30, 2012

When Men were Men and Could Pay for the Date

“The major concrete achievement of the women's movement of the 1970's was the Dutch treat.” -Nora Ephron.

This quote always makes me laugh a bit. Of all the things in the world to be hailed as a great achievement, seriously? But my initial amusement is something of a discredit to the woman who said it, because it does her the discourtesy of not listening to her. It interprets her words through my set of ideas and assumptions, which is the surest way to avoid ever hearing what a person is saying. Obviously to her it was no laughing matter (at least I don’t think it was. I can find no reference to her as a humorist.) She meant something by it.

It turns out, when you take the time to listen, that she saw it as a symbolic victory. In her mind, up until then, men have viewed women as helpless, fragile creatures who simply couldn’t manage to provide food for themselves if the big, strong, manly men didn’t give it to them. Worse still, the big, strong, manly men were intent on keeping it that way because, deep down inside, they were all afraid of these fragile little women. They couldn’t feel manly without someone to dominate, so to protect their own egos they had arbitrarily forced women into a position of subservience.

To her, the groundswell of support from countless women around the country saying “No thanks, I can pay for my own meal,” was a vindication. It was like Gandhi, refusing to walk in the gutter, insisting that there was room on the sidewalk for all people regardless of color. Every Hindu who followed his example and calmly and quietly walked on the sidewalk, even for a few steps, was a blow at the institution of oppression. In the same way, I think Nora Ephron saw every woman’s purchase of her own dinner as a small, but significant demonstration against the patriarchal establishment.

Whether she was right or wrong, is another thing entirely, and not the point of this blog. I will say briefly that while I cannot agree with her, I cannot completely disagree with her either.

Instead of worrying about that, for the moment, let’s fast forward thirty-odd years to the 2000’s and early ‘teens. Now we have the cultural phenomenon of blogging, and in that blogging world, the delicious irony of posts and comment threads like this one, in which the women are the ones reminiscing longingly over the days when men were men and could pay for the date. In still another stroke of genius, men are now the ones who are calling for “equality”. If they want equal rights as men, let those women share some responsibility. They are adults, let them pay for their own dang meal.

Lo! I fear we have created a monster!

Actually, no. We have created nothing. We have simply put an old problem in new clothes, and even the new clothes aren’t really new. They are just the old clothes, turned inside out.

Why were a few vocal, and admittedly often eloquent women, able to launch a movement that, with very little organization and almost no direct conflict, was able completely to change the face of a society in a few short decades? As a professional student of revolutionary tactics in general, I can tell you it was a pretty bit of work. They had a base of support. Their message hit home, and resonated with women. For one reason or another, deep down inside, thousands of women heard this message of liberation and it meshed with a fear in their hearts. They felt like their rights were not being met. They were being used.

Can we argue against it? Possibly, although every individual’s story is always different. That really is beside the point. The point is that they felt used and denied rights which should be theirs. There was a reason they felt that way. There always is!

And now that the tables have turned, and men choose not to pay because generations of women have told us, “No, thank-you, I have a job and I can afford it,” the cry is different. Women lament that men don’t think them worth the time or money it would take to treat them to a nice, thoughtful date. They feel used. I doubt any would argue that their rights are being violated. That is now the man’s cry. Why does the man always have to pay for everything? Why is it now our job to be gentlemen while women have apparent carte-blanche to pick and choose which of the traditionally lady-like gestures they will or will not use? Why do laws on anything and everything from divorce, to civil disputes, to domestic quarrels favor women?

The few men who can put this succinctly find an audience. There are murmurs of assent, that instant leaping of recognition, aggrieved to aggrieved. Men feel like their rights are being violated.

Like I said, old problem, new look, same clothes just turned inside out. The root of both issues was, and is, the fear of being used. We are inveterate cynics, we human beings. Always on the watch lest someone pull the wool over our eyes. Someone is out to deal us out of the game, cut us from the line where all the good bargains are. It isn’t that we are necessarily greedy. We don’t want to take anything that’s anyone else’s but I will not be gypped of what is rightfully mine. If you don’t look out four your rights, someone else is going take you for everything you have.

Mutual suspicion is as old as fig leaves.

So what is the solution? Simple. Let go of the fear. Give someone the benefit of the doubt, for a change (which is not the same thing as pretending there is a doubt when there isn’t). Speak honestly and sincerely, expect others to do the same. It’s okay to be surprised and hurt when someone lies to you. You should be surprised. It’s a surprising thing. It is utterly unnatural and unreasonable and you ought to rebel against it with every fiber of your being. But don’t believe that lie. You see, if you take one woman who lies to you, or ten, or fifty, or a hundred, and then extrapolate that all women are therefore liars, you have bought the lie, hook line and sinker. You really have been hoodwinked.

That is not the Truth! The truth is that people lie, from time to time. (Some people tell the truth from time to time.) But there are people who believe in the truth. There are people who believe in honor, integrity, and generosity. There are people who will guard your rights far more zealously than you ever could. Seek them out, take the years it takes to get to know them. Because when you can let your rights go, confident that they will be taken care of, it frees you to live something better. Rights exist and are important because they protect us from ourselves, but they are the lowest common denominator. In a relationship, if you have to worry about your rights, you are already behind the power curve. Relationship exists so that we can forget about our rights, and move deeper into the realm of self-gift.

This is what a man says by paying for a date, even a first date. He’s saying, “I don’t need to stand on my rights. I can give of myself, and I hope you can do the same. I don’t know, but I’m giving you the chance. You deserve it.”

Saturday, January 28, 2012

It's All Obama's Fault

Thursday morning I went for a run. It was still dark out, but my plan was to do 50 minutes total along the sidewalk. Now that the snow has melted I’ve discovered that the sidewalk runs straight north almost to the Puget Sound. It’s mostly downhill on the way out, and then, of course, uphill on the way back. I ended up running only about 48 minutes because of it. I turned around at 24 minutes, expecting it to take me longer to get back since I would be running uphill most of the way. Instead, to my delighted surprise, I actually ran almost exactly the same speed on the way back making it in at 48 minutes. Close enough. I let myself off the extra two minutes for good behavior. Someday I’ll have to drive the route to see how far it was.

However, this blog concerns something that happened in the first ten minutes of the run. As I said, it was still dark out, and although the sidewalk is pretty good, there was one place where one of the segments had heaved up out of the ground, probably from a tree root, and it was sticking up about three inches higher than its neighbor. My left toe caught that lip in the dark and down I went, knees, heal of the hand, forearm and shoulders, a very awkward looking shoulder roll back to my feet and I kept moving. I was cranking under my breath, but I was still going. The heels of my hands were the most painful parts at the time, but I could tell my knees had been pretty banged up. At any rate, it was too dark to examine them, and I didn’t want to slow down so I pushed on and forgot all about it until I got back to my apartment. Unlocking my door, standing on the well-lit landing, I finally looked down at my legs and saw this:

It turns out I did take some skin off.

Of course it’s always a mistake to judge the severity of a wound by the amount of blood (and that isn’t even a lot of blood). If there is a lot of sweat, it dilutes the blood and makes it flow further and faster than it otherwise would, so even a little bit of blood can cover a lot of area. I washed these and the other abrasions off pretty thoroughly when I showered, and then ignored them.

But I realized, it’s all Obama’s fault.

Well, not Obama exactly, but it is the government’s fault, and he is the head of the government so we’ll blame him. Does Washington (D.C.) not care about its people? They should know that sidewalks with cracks in them are hazardous. They should know that running is hazardous. People get injured like that in countless numbers every year. Why isn’t Congress doing something to mitigate that? Like mandating knee and elbow pads for runners, or providing everyone with free head lamps, or outlawing running during hours of darkness?

I mean, if this administration can’t protect me from the consequences of my own choices, what good is it?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Ask Thugfang: Vocational Uncertainty

His Right Dishonourable Loathsomeness, Master Thugfang, is a demon of great infamy among academic circles. He is a frequent columnist for “Tempter’s Times”, an assistant editor for “Wickedness Weekly” and current chair of Tempter’s Training College’s Department of Defense Against the White Arts, after the sudden disappearance of the most recent head under mysterious circumstances. Now, His Right Dishonourable Loathsomeness takes your questions. Having problems with a particularly troublesome patient? Meddlesome enemy agents stymieing you at every turn? Don’t wait, write immediately to “Ask Thugfang” C/O “Underworld Magazine.”

“Dear Master Thugfang, my patient is currently discerning a vocation to the priesthood, and I fear he is tipping the wrong way. What do I do? Sincerely, Fearful in Seattle.”
My Dear Fearful,
No need for pseudonyms here, I have enough friends in the offices of the Lowerarchy to find out your number if I want to. That you are a miserable blunderer, in very great danger of the usual punishments for incompetence and carelessness, I already know. Even the fact that you use the phrase “discerning a vocation” shows you have gathered most of your information about this from your patient. I suppose you never took my lectures on Vocational Uncertainty? Or perhaps you were one of those disgusting, arrogant insects who always simpered and smirked in the back, thinking you knew better than I. Now where are you? In imminent danger of letting a soul slip into a very dangerous and poisonous position, and of course, of being appropriately re-educated.
Never fear, though, all is not lost. The very tone of your question tells me that what you really need is a new point of view on the matter of “vocations” (so called). You need the principle of “vocational uncertainty,” a humble contribution of yours truly to the vast science on the subject. Put simply, it states that we do not know whether or not any particular human has or does not have a vocation, or if he does what it might be. We know there have been cases of Him calling individual humans. The singularly unfortunate and otherwise inexplicable case of our dear old boy Saul is one such example. But by and large we simply have no evidence to suggest that The Enemy “calls” the average human. If you take what He says at face value then it follows that He does, but we know better than to listen to anything He says, don’t we? Another important point is that the humans don’t know either. The patient doesn’t know. If he did he wouldn’t be “discerning” he would be struggling to accept or running away. The patient’s priest doesn’t know, his parents don’t know, no matter what kind of “advice” they give him.
On the whole it doesn’t matter to us at all. Of course if we could find out for certain what The Enemy’s game was, we would certainly try to discourage that vocation, but we can’t so it makes no sense worrying about it. Maybe your patient is being called, maybe he isn’t. You will be the last to know.
Now that I have shown that you really know nothing, it’s obvious from your question that you regard his becoming a priest as the most undesirable outcome. Such a shallow view of things is sure to get you re-educated sooner or later. Never let the facts dominate your view of reality. Let what you want be the way you see things and with practice you can get others to see it that way also.
In reality, neither outcome is good or bad for us. Let me impress upon you the spiritual maxim you should have learned as a lowly parasite: humans are raw material. Their thoughts, their feelings, their choices, their very bodies and souls, all of these are nothing more than raw material. We can get a priest to damn himself just as easily as anyone else, and they are tastier when they get here. Really, the disturbing thing is not that he is leaning towards becoming a priest, but that he is leaning in any direction at all. Do we want him to be a priest? Do we want him to be a lay person? To us, it truly doesn’t matter. We want him to be nothing. If I could I would make sure that every one of those obscene half-breed vermin lived their entire lives as nothing, doing nothing, desiring nothing, choosing nothing. I would see all of them waste every talent, opportunity and dream fleeing endless fears, living a bland, soulless existence and finding out when all is said and done, that nothing meaningful was said, nothing worthwhile was done, and all their choices were made by us, as we shall continue to make their choices for all eternity. I would like to see all of them torn with vocational scruples, bouncing back and forth in endless, self-defeating uncertainty between what they truly want, and what their dear Aunt Tilly has so helpfully half-convinced them The Enemy wants them to do.
If he could be made to engage in a spectacular act of willful defiance that would be one thing, but since we don’t know what we are making him defy, and since the more spectacular it is, the riskier it is to us, we just want to delay. Never let him see that no choice is really a choice, but we are the ones making it. Dawdle. Muddle. Confuse. Obfuscate. Guilt, fear, hope, desire, all of these are in our favor so long as none of them lead to what we fear most; i.e. a free, whole hearted, open commitment. The Enemy wants the patient to do one of two things: either to embrace every natural desire of his heart, all those deep longings for “goodness” and “truth” and “beauty” (pardon my French, but this is no job for the squeamish!) that The Enemy has placed there. If he does this, following those images with thankfulness and the knowledge that they are images, he is really choosing The Enemy behind those images, and that suits The Enemy just fine. Or, on the other hand, he could reject all of those images and choose to search for The Enemy Himself, face to face as it were (I know, the idea fills us with disgust, but some of these humans have tried it and they are unbelievably damaging to us.) I say again, the Enemy wants the human to do one of these two things. Which one, we don’t know. It doesn’t matter. We want him to do neither. Whether he is a priest or a publican is of no concern to us, so long as he is not happy or holy as either. Whether it matters to The Enemy, we can’t say for sure, but I suspect it is not His ultimate concern.
In summary, the road he takes in the end is of less interest to us than the choice, or rather the lack of choice. Keep him stalling as long as possible. When he does make it, see that he does not make it fully or freely, if you can. A choice made through fear is far better for us in the long run than a choice made from honest desire. And finally, once he does make his choice, (or drifts into it, if you do your job right,) you can use it to maintain that same spiritual stranglehold on him. Keep nagging at him with guilt, regrets, what-ifs and doubts. Encourage him to hang around with pious friends (our kind of pious, not real piety) who will say things like, “You know, I always thought you should have been a priest.” Or “Hey, at least you never have to deal with a nagging wife or whiny kids.” The ignorance of that statement is a veritable feast.
This should be enough to get you started. If you can’t manage to make it work even with this excellent advice, well, we shall just replace you with someone who can.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Why I Love People Who Hate Religion

I think I should probably get out more. Apparently there is a video that went viral (is it just me, or does that phrase just sound bad?) on the internet of a young man standing in a parking lot rapping about why he hates religion but loves Jesus. I heard about it through the responses for days before I actually saw the video. I didn’t watch any of the video responses, but I read a great deal of argumentation against it. Finally, I went to the ignitumtoday.com post about it and watched the original video there, and then watched several of the video responses. For those who haven’t seen the original video it is here:

My favorite response was this one:

The poetry was better than any of the others, and his beard is way awesome.

I have to say, I liked the original video. It was well done, heartfelt and sincere. The poetry wasn’t great, a good number of the rhymes were forced, and the lines wouldn’t scan well written out, but that’s common with rap. It is a performing art. It is simply not meant to be read. The performer has to adjust his cadence to make the lines fit and his performance was (in my opinion) quite good, which is saying very little as I am not a general fan of rap and don’t listen to it often. It was, at any rate, a better effort than any of the attempted rap responses I’ve seen, except the Don Bosco priest with the beard.

I think most of the responses I have read and watched simply ignored the poetry and went straight to the theology. Perhaps they are right to do so, but I thought someone should at least say something about his poetry. The responses mostly begin right away with quoting from scripture to dismantle his points, one by one, and perhaps they are right to do this as well. At least it saves me the trouble. On the other hand, I don’t think I would have argued his points in any event. I don’t think that is the right response. It seems to me that most of the arguers aren’t really listening. They watched the video and all they hear is an attack on the Church, and they respond to that with varying degrees of patience, humility and eloquence.

I don’t know, perhaps they heard something I didn’t hear, but when I listened to the video, this young man reciting his poem, I didn’t hear an argument. I heard a poem. I heard an echo in my own heart of everything he was saying, and I realized, this fellow isn’t rejecting the Church at all. How could he? He has never known the Church. I don’t know whether he was Catholic or Protestant, but whatever the case may be, I would be very surprised if he has ever seen the real Church. He has seen only a shadow church, partly created by others, partly created by himself. Unable to see the reality behind the shadow, he thinks the shadow is the Church and he rejects it. And he is right to do so. He is absolutely right to reject everything he describes in his poem.

This is why I wouldn’t argue against him at all. If I tried to defend the Church I would find myself beating the air because he is not even talking about the Church. He is not even talking about religion, even when he uses the word. I would not be addressing his issues, and he would have no idea what I was talking about because his understanding of the words “Church” and “religion” are defined strictly in terms of his experience with the shadow church. We would be arguing from different premises. Not only that, but he will never read this blog and so I wouldn’t even be talking to him.

Instead I am speaking to people who have seen his video on the internet, or seen the flurry of defensiveness directed towards it and wonder what all the fuss is about. I encourage you to listen to the poem, but listen to him, not your own commentary on it. Know that this man doesn’t know what religion is, but if he were to substitute the word “hypocrisy” for the word “religion”, no Catholic would argue with it. It also would never have gone viral, but that’s another topic altogether.

If you do have the good fortune to be able to meet with this guy, or one of the thousands who listened to his poem and responded “Yes, that’s it! That’s exactly what I’ve been saying,” think about how you are to respond to them. They do not know what the Church is. They know only the shadow church. I don’t think this calls for arguing against their points. I think it calls for understanding their points, and then introducing them to the real Church, which cannot be done by words alone. Therefore it is costlier. The fruit will be in proportion to the cost.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Eye of the Storm

A young man, old enough to shave, was walking home from work one evening and took a back street behind the local super market, which he usually didn’t take. He saw that there was a martial arts dojo on that street and as he walked past the door a man came out with a gym bag in one hand and a wooden bokken training sword in the other. He was middle aged, with glasses, of very average build. He looked like he could be a dentist or a barber, except for the wooden sword.

“Practicing some sword fighting?” The young man asked, flippantly. “Pretty sweet. I didn’t know they had sword fighting schools around anymore. Now, if I ever get into a sword fight I’ll know where to come.”

The older man smiled faintly and replied, “if you ever get into a sword fight, it will probably be too late.”

The youth paused, and then, a bit irritated, asked, “Come on, you really believe you’ll ever get in a sword fight? What’s the point of practicing something you’ll never use?”

The older man stopped walking and quietly looked the young man in the eye. Then, without any warning, he dropped the gym bag, both hands seized the hilt of his sword, and before the young man could blink, the sword was poised less than an inch from his temple. The older man had moved like lightening. His face was a mask of rage, and every muscle in his body was taut and straining. He had swung with the speed of a snake and the force of a home run, but had stopped less than an inch short of cracking the young man’s skull

The youth leapt back, spluttering and tripping, and fell over backwards, while the older man relaxed, his face became calm and peaceful once more, and he stood once again with the sword held in his left hand, hanging by his side. He was completely at ease as if nothing ahd ever happened.

The youth scrambled to his feet and ran up in his face. “What the ---- was that? You wanna get your ass kicked, old man? Think you’re really smart and cool? I wasn’t ready that time but if you wanna go I’ll take that stick and shove it up your ass. I ought to ------- stab you…”

“The point is this,” the man said in a low, calm voice, easily cutting through the torrent of expletives. “You experienced fear just then. The only way you know how to respond is with anger and threats. You were afraid, and then ashamed of being afraid, then afraid of being afraid, and then full of hatred towards the one who frightened you. But you do not even know why you were afraid.”

“Of course I ------- know why I was afraid. You swung a ------- stick at my head.”

“It was not the supposed danger to your life that frightened you. If you were working on a construction site and a steel girder slipped and almost struck you, you would not be afraid like that. You would not respond with anger at the piece of metal, even though your life would be just as much in danger. You were afraid because you were created to be loved, and in that instant, you felt hatred. If you trained with the sword you would learn how to stand in the eye of the storm, with hatred swirling around you, and remain at peace. Instead, you can only become what you fear. But the fear does not leave you.

This seems to me something worth learning.”

He carefully tucked the corner of a worn black sash back into his gym bag, before picking it up and continuing to his car.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Road Trip Part III

 I stopped and took this picture at a scenic overview in Oregon. This was a six mile downgrade from the high desert to the fertile valley below. It looked to me as if the mountains just droped straight off to the farmland and the engineers had to come up with a way to get the road from the top to the bottom in a real hurry. So they split the Eastbound and Westbound lanes and sent them down (or up) by separate, twisting, convoluted routes, all at least a 5% grade for more than six miles.
 I love going through these cut outs, especially when there is a Semi doing 30mph through it at the same time.
 You can tell this is the border between Oregon and Washington, because the sky suddenly gets gray and cloudy.
 That truck is carrying one arm of one of the windmills for a wind farm up in the mountains, just to give you an idea of how huge those windmills are.
 I think the picture above is my favorite picture of the whole trip. It just needs to be in Imax, and then it would be almost sort of a little bit realistic.
 There is something austere and magnificent even about the gloominess. It is what it is, it asks permission of no person. It simply obeys God, and calls out sternness in any who want to live here. We have to adapt to it, for it certainly will not change to suit us. It calls for humility.
The rest stop at Snoqualmie pass on I-90 W. After that I hit the temperate rain forests and the rain began. A little depressing after all the gorgeousness, at first, but I am getting used to it. You have to learn to love it. God would not have made it if it were not good. It is up to me to find and love that good by His grace. It requires humility.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Road Trip, Part II

I saw these bales of hay north of Salt Lake towards the end of the third day (as you can tell by the light.) Tons and tons of hay. Some of the fields are about three or four times the size of our whole farm back home. The speed limit is also a pretty fluid concept. I was doing 80mph most of the way (speed limit was 75) but I got passed by someone doing about a hundred, on a curve. He had a heavy foot and his hand was none too steady on the wheel. I watched him almost wipe out on the curve right in front of me with his girlfriend or wife in the passenger seat. I thought I was going to have to stop and render aid for a second there.
The next morning in Oregon. Did you know in Oregon it's against the law to pump your own gas?
I love the early morning on the hills. I was a little over 5,000 feet elevation here I think.
That was my first glimpse of the real Rockies!
I want to climb it! Why? Why does Kirk climb the mountain?
It took me a while to get this picture. I had to wait for a gap in the hills, and then semi's kept passing and blocking the shot. I have a couple of pictures of blurry semi's before this one. And it's not easy to do at 85 mph.

This is the other half of the same town. I don't remember the name of it, only that the whole mountain range opened up to form this huge flat-bottomed bowl, and someone back in 1870-something decided it would be a good place to build a town.

I think this is actually in Washington but I'm not sure. I was passing a little town with five houses stuck on the side of a mountain, wondering what makes someone want to live in a place like that. Even I would want to be able to get to a town when I needed to. And then I saw a sign for "historic bridge" and there was a convoluted little exit off the interstate. There was this little one-lane bridge on the gorge and a hardened road leading off into the hills, goodness knows where. Someone had built a small garden and some park benches around one end of the bridge and had set up some bronze plaques like you see at historic sites to explain why they are historic. Only these plaques had no words. I guess they hadn't gotten to that part. Or maybe no one up here knows how to read?

I climbed underneath for an artsy shot. (It's not really that artsy, but I like it.)

And once again I've reached my photo upload limit for one blog. I'll do one more later this week.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Road Trip

So, from Jan 2nd to Jan 5th of this year I drove solo from NY to my new spot in Washington. (That's states, not cities). A total of 3,000 miles, (I made a few stops on the way) and three 12+ hour days, with the last day breaking 8 hours behind the wheel. I think I underestimated how unpleasant that much inactivity was going to be.

I did bring a camera so I can share some pictures. The first day I did not stop at all, except to get gas. The weather was mostly horrible anyway, and I drove through more than one blizzard before I made it to Illinois. So no pictures from that day.
In Illinois I made my first detour, through:

It was a long detour because the town was about this big:

And it was about a lightyear and a half from the freeway, as the crow flies.

It was too early in the morning for anything to be open so I just took some pictures of the house where Reagan was a boy
and moved on.

I know no one asked me, but in my opinion there is too dang much nothing in nebraska. Why they made that state 540 odd miles long I'll never know.

I can't remember which state this wind farm was in but it was the first of many I would see. I like wind farms. They are majestic, in their own way, and energy doesn't get much cleaner than that. This wasn't even the biggest one I saw.

Scenery didn't really start to get interesting until Wyoming, but then it was awesome. I love the high desert. If I ever get a chance, I wouldn't mind living in Wyoming.

This little tree appealed to me, standing all by itself on the top of a big ol' hill. Apparently it appealed to a lot of other people too.
Shortly after that I reached the peak of my trip... literally.
Hey look, it's a roller coaster!

More shots of the high desert. I don't know why I liked this part of wyoming better than any part of Nebraska. It's just as empty. But it's clearer, if you know what I mean.

I raced the freight train, and won.
The road goes ever on and on (and on and on and on....)
Then we got into some mountains. Unfortunately, blogger is tired of uploading photos, so the rest will have to wait for another time.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Why I Love the Tridentine Mass

When I lived in Fort Bragg I would sometimes drive to a Church forty minutes away so that I could attend a Tridentine rite Latin Mass. It was so worth the drive, although the drive itself was a forty minute time for prayer, and therefore quite worthwhile in its own right. I was mildly amused by the irony of the numerous billboards along I-95 outside Bragg, advertising "Adult Entertainment". Amused because I saw that on the way to Mass, but saddened on a deeper level. Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.

But something a lot of people don't understand is why the Latin Mass is worth forty minutes of driving one way. Why would you drive that far to attend a service in a language you don't understand when there were five Catholic churches with ten minutes of my apartment that are all in English?

Well, that is a good question, because it gets right to the heart of what liturgy is, but I'm going to save that for last. Actually, there are a number of lesser reasons why I go to the Tridentine mass. For one thing, I like being surrounded by families. I grew up in a large family, most of my friends growing up came from large families. My cousins that I visit on weekends come from large families. Right now I'm mostly on my own, but I still like being able to see families. For instance, another soldier I knew slightly from Afghanistan usually brought his wife and seven kids to the Latin Mass. I just like being surrounded by kids. It makes me happy, even when I'm ignoring them to concentrate on the liturgy. Their presence makes the Mass seem complete. Fr. Matt, the Chaplain on Fort Bragg, said once in a sermon that he never minded crying children at Mass because He didn't feel like explaining to Jesus why he wouldn't let the little children come to Him.

I like the music better. I don't know why it is, but Catholic church music in most Catholic churches is frankly horrible. I was literally embarrassed for the music director at the saturday evening Mass on Bragg. She sings boring, lame hymns with tame lyrics at a painfully slow pace, and you can tell from her face she's uncomfortable. The congregation is mumbling along as if they are embarrassed to be associated with the whole thing. I don't know why this should be. Our Catholic heritage contains the greatest Church music ever written, music that is performed in concert for its exquisite beauty and majesty even today, long after the religious meaning is forgotten and bypassed. We have hundreds of years of beauty to avail ourselves of, from Gregorian to Palestrina to Lutkin to Bach. There is more contemporary music also that is also very beautiful. You can find CD's of it anywhere. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir has a huge repertoire of magnificent praise music in English. Why are we singing praise and worship songs that were tired when they were written? Why are we singing music that no one would ever want to sing or listen to if it were not "church" music? Why is all the music we use to celebrate the most profound Sacrifice of God to God on the Cross, unutterably dreary?

I like the Latin, because I actually understand Latin somewhat, and I find the sound of the words to be melodious and pleasing. People sometimes accuse the Catholic Church of having kept things in Latin so that they would remain a secret known only to the few. That's simply ignorant. The Church adopted Latin because it was the universal language. Everyone who knew how to read or write for most of church history, knew how to read and write in Latin. It wasn't until after the fracturing of the Church with the Protestant revolution, that Latin began to decline, and even until less than a century ago, Catholics learned Latin as a part of schooling. Latin was used to unify the world in worship.

I also like being able to worship in a Catholic Chapel building, where the architecture is designed to be an aid to worship, to lift the mind and heart to the mysteries being enacted, rather than simply to fit as many people as possible.

All of these are peripheral, they don't really matter. They don't really matter because they have everything to do with me, and nothing to do with the worship. You see the question of the Latin mass, or of any mass, really comes down to the sacrament being enacted. The sacrament is the action of God, making present under forms of bread and wine, the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. Against this reality all the details of other people, music, atmosphere and language fade into insignificance. To hold these things important in the face of the Sacrifice of the Eucharist is to say that our works are the important thing, not the action of God. This is the heart of Catholic worship, the insistence that in the end worship is not something we do. Whether we get a good vibe from it or not is largely unimportant. What is important is God's action, our business is to surrender to that action on faith. It is for this reason that I sometimes think that evangelicals have things rather backwards. By all means, read the scripture together (although I think you'll find there is more scripture in a Catholic weekday mass than in even the longest Evangelical service), listen to sermons and pray together. These are good things, but really, they kind of are our things. They are works. I am not denigrating them by saying that. I believe in works. But to have that as the sum total of your worship, just stuff that we do, that's a bit sad. If that is all worship is, us doing stuff, then it is a clumsy and ineffectual business. And incidentally, it is not even Biblical. In the Early Church the Breaking of the Bread was the center of worship.

But if the Catholic Church has the correct, sacramental interpretation of worship, then things begin to make sense. Worship is something that God does, God makes the sacramental reality present, God calls us, God is the source and summit. We respond. We accept. We surrender.

It is against this reality of God's action in worship that all these peripherals make any sense at all. Of course the sacrifice of the Mass on a plywood table in a tent in Afghanistan is just as much the center of the universe as the Easter Vigil Mass in the Sistine Chapel. The peripherals of the liturgy are not to benefit God, and certainly not to impress Him. He can't be impressed. They exist entirely as our response to His action. Some are better and more suitable because they are better responses. We respond more fully when we respond with all our senses, with music that is beautiful, with architecture that is fitting, with demeanor that is reverent, with dress that is honoring. But our liturgy is only a response; it is not the soul of the worship. God is that.

It is for this reason, above all others, that I love the Latin mass. Because I don't perfectly understand all the words, because most of the talking is done by the Priest, because there are so few responses compared to the Novus Ordo, precisely because of all of these things I am freed from the illusion that worship has anything to do with my action. I am not here to make my prayers, I am here to join into other prayers, the prayers of those in the building with me, the prayers of the priest as our pastor, the prayers of the Church around the world, and the prayers of all the Saints throughout all of history, past, present and future. All of these are gathered up together in the communion of Saints, which is the Church, and united with the prayer and Sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross, through our Celebration of the Eucharist. Without this celebration, I grant you, what we do is a bunch of meaningless mumbo jumbo. But because we all have one Sacrifice of the Body and Blood of Jesus, our worship that we surrender to and enact becomes a holy offering, pleasing and acceptable to God.

"The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread." 1 Corinthians 10:16-17.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Death Threat

This isn’t meant to be a personal thing,
In fact it couldn’t be; I barely know
Your name, or face, or home or how you go
From home to work, and back, or what you sing
In the car on your commute. This shouldn’t sting
On any emotional level. I am not your foe
Just a professional, with bills to pay; although
In retrospect, it might be nice just once
To know the man behind the face behind
The crosshair reticle. It hasn’t happened yet.
But then I have to ask what kind of dunce
Would take the shot without first going blind?
Regardless, you’ve been warned. Do not forget.

Reading BadCatholic's blog the other day I noticed that his contact info said "All death threats will be disregarded unless written in iambic pentameter." So I wrote this. Took me about fifteen minutes because it was so much fun.